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Thailand Climbing

Jeremy Belays Euan on the first pitch
of "High Tide" (6b) on the Low Tide Wall
pic of Low Tide Wall

The climbing I did in Thailand was primarily on the Phra Nang peninsula in Krabi province (SW coast). I stayed on Tonsai beach in bungalows at Andaman Nature Resort and Dream Valley. (much fancier names than the actual places). Check out some other people’s web sites for more detail on the nuts and bolts of getting there. The actual climbing was on limestone cliffs. Many of the cliffs were overhanging and featured stalactites, tufas, and other fantastic features. As an added bonus some of the cliffs rose above the beach making for easy access and less of a problem with mosquitos. (daytime mosquitos carried dengue fever, and nighttime mosquitos carried malaria (maybe)). 3 people I knew got dengue, and they all thought they got it from Tonsai. Getting a few mosquito bites a day was pretty unavoidable for someone as tasty as me, but mosquito coils, bug spray, clothing, and smoky fires all helped to decrease exposure. As far as I know I didn’t get anything other than itchy bites from them.

Back to the climbing. Routes were up to 5 pitches long, and were primarily sport climbs with closely spaced bolts. This was fortunate as the bolts were all a litle suspect due to the corrosive action of the salt spray and the excessive moisture. There were plenty of old corroded bolts on some climbs, but most of the popular climbs had new stainless steel or titanium glue-in bolts next to the rust holes of the old bolts. None of the old bolts blew on me, but I sweated a few when there were no other protection options. Speaking of sweating. It is hot and humid there, at least when I was there it was. (June, end of July, August, Sept, and mid October.) Sweat bands for the wrists could save you a lot of grief. Plenty of chalk wouldn’t hurt either.

You certainly don’t have to have a partner lined up before you get there, although bringing a good partner is the best option. I didn’t have too much trouble finding someone to climb with in the low season. Of course it might be a good idea to review some before climbing with a complete stranger, especially on multi-pitch climbs (make sure that they can tell the difference between "take" and "safe"). If you are in search of a partner, then heading to 1 2 3 or Diamond cave are probably the best bets for "easy" climbs (6b and below) and to dums kitchen and tonsai for harder stuff. You can almost always find someone to belay you at Tonsai. Even a semi recluse like myself was able to meet plenty of interesting people there. Interesting is the right word. There are people from all over the world, usually people from the USA were in the minority. A lot of Australians, Kiwis, Canadians, Brits, and Scandinavians though. Pretty much everyone has at least a few interesting stories, so you just have to get them started. Nothing like silly human tricks or a round of table bouldering to get things started. (Beware of table bouldering if you plan on climbing hard the next day) ( did anybody get pictures of table bouldering? Phil?) If that doesn’t work you can always learn to Crochet with Marie.

Climbs highly recommended:

Climb everything with new bolts and see what you like. But here are a few I liked (or thought were good climbs despite (or because) of suffering mightily.)

Peyote 6c+, 6c, 6c, 6b+, 7a - 5 overhanging pitches on the Sleeping Indian wall. Spectacular exposure, some great climbing. A bit dirty, but with a bit of the traffic it deserves it should clear up nicely. If you can do it, you definitely should. Make sure you back clip on the way down.

Thaiwand Wall: Some great climbing in a spectacular setting. In the shade for the high season. Take 2 ropes or a lot of imagination and time for the decent.

Circus Oz. 6a+, 6b+, 7a, 6b. the second pitch is sort of hiding I think (I ended up on most of the 6c+ pitch from Lord of the Thais). The 7a bit seemed pretty soft (for7a).

Lord of the Thais. 6a+, 6c+, 7a+, 7b, 6a.

The King and I. 6b, 6a, 7b+, 6a. (we traversed onto this one by mistake in the middle of the 6a pitch. The 7b+ was more of a pump problem. I thought it was softer than the 7b on Lord of the Thais, but I was nowhere near flashing it. )

Out of Sticks. 7a+.

Live and Let Thai. 7a. (not a guaranteed onsight despite what Luan may say)

Fit to be Thaid. 6a+. Spectacular setting over the water.

Happy Island:

King Fisher

Land of Smiles (first pitch at least)

Tonsai Wall: This is the place to conveniently climb steep limestone. There is often a crowd here, as you can belay from the steps to the Freedom bar for some climbs. If you prefer to climb without hecklers, supporters, or an audience, then this is not the crag for you.

Advantage: "Sports Action", plenty of belayers, easily stick clipped (and unclipped!) bolts, short approach. Possible to climb in the rain.

Disadvantage: "Sports Action", crowds, pervasive sand, potential high tide and floodwater conflicts.

Humanality. 4th class+ 1 move, 6a+, 6b, 6b+, 6b, 6a. (a "Classic", especially the move on the 6b+ pitch.)

The 4 climbs at the top of the ladder (good warm up)

Trade Winds. 7a+ Short route with some big moves on top of the terrace.

Reiser Baby. 7a+. A bouldery start leads to a stalactite riding semi-rest and then slopers to the end.

Hang Ten. 7c. Boy did I suffer on this one, but I finally got it.

Tidal Wave. 7b+. The classic steep route. No really hard moves, but oh the pump. First it is a project, then a warmup.

Cafe Andaman (7b)
Pic of me on Cafe Andaman (7b)

Café Andaman. 7b. Take a seat at the café for a rest after the first 2 bolts, then struggle out to the anchors. The full "Grundy hook" was debuted here.

Unnamed. 7a. a bit of a sketchy start and some of the coolest 3d climbing with plenty of no hands rests. Try for the no hands knee bar between 2 stalactites on a roof.

Stalagasaurus 6a+ How can a climb this steep be so easy? Fun.

Babes in Thailand. 7a

Lal Bab. 7a+

That’s enough climbs for now…

There are plenty of other websites telling you how to get there, but they don’t always have the dirtbag hints that discerning dirtbags need to know. All of this info is for the time I was there. I wouldn’t be surprised if things are different during high season. For starters I would say that you want to stay at Tonsai, not Railey. Tonsai seemed cheaper to me, plus closer to a lot of the climbing, and generally more of a community than the other areas. You can walk from West Railey around the headland at low tide, or up over the hill at high tide. At the highest tides you might get wet passing under Stalagasaurus. There is also a path from near diamond cave, but it is rather sweaty. An easier option is to take a songtheow to Ao Nang and catch a longtail from there to Tonsai. Food is relatively expensive here as there are no real markets or stores available without a long low tide walk or a boat ride. I saved a fair amount of money by cooking rice in my bungalow with a hot pot. This was a bit of a pain though because the electricity was only on in the evening. But it did allow me to have rice and banana and peanuts and powdered milk for breakfast and rice and sardines and cucumber and whatever else I had for lunch. (like boiled eggs). Some people I knew had gas stoves (if you are there for a long trip you can rent (or buy and resell?) a propane stove in Krabi. ) In the least you could buy a bag of meusli or some sort of instant cereal and as much fruit as you can eat before it goes bad in Krabi. There are also a lot of coconuts kicking around. I never had to climb any trees to get any as there were plenty on the ground. I got a rather hefty chopper in Vietnam that made opening them up pretty easy (and a straw makes drinking the water easier).

Beware of the local fauna that wants to eat your food. This includes ants, rats, monkeys, other dirtbag climbers, and maybe the toilet monster (If you are in Phil’s bungalow). Different strategies are appropriate for each of these menaces. If I were going again I’d probably take some tupperware and a rat trap and look into scrounging at least one of the big tins that they store cookies in. It is probably possible to get some cooking items from the stuff that other people have left, however you can’t really count on any particular item. Another popular item is a plug in light that you can clip to the wall. This can be nice, especially if you plan on reading in bed, or doing anything that requires real light at night in your bungalow.

Pretty much everything starts mildewing and rotting as soon as you get to Tonsai. This includes stuff like the nylon duffel bag I just hung on a wall and the t-shirt I never wore. If I were going there as part of a longer trip I would wrap all the stuff I wasn’t going to want there up in plastic bags before I got there and not open it the whole time (or even leave it at a guesthouse in Bangkok). Otherwise the best strategy to me seemed to be to have only a few items of clothing and to rotate them regularly from wearing, washing (or at least rinsing) and attempted drying in front of the fan or in the sun (if you can find a patch of sun that is not going to get rained on). Often in the morning I would put on clothes that weren’t fully dry as they were just going to get soaked with sweat or rained on. Another strategy is to just wear a single pair of swim trunks and no shirt. This works most of the time, but depends on your resistance to sunburn and mosquitos. This place is hard on gear too. Biners get corroded and start to stick, shoes get mildewed, ropes get sanded… You get the idea. Most important I think is to soak all your gear in fresh water and dry it thoroughly when you leave. I made the mistake of leaving some gear touching a pair of shoes when I stored it. Although I had rinsed the gear, the shoes were still pretty salty and absorbed moisture out of the air. This started the gear corroding… Not good.

What to do when you aren’t climbing?

twirling fire poi
Pic of me twirling fire
more twirling
Pic of me twirling fire (flash)
Eating and sleeping and watching other climbers seems to be a popular choice. So does a variety of drugs from coffee and alcohol on up. There is usually someone around for a chess or card game. Spinning poi is always fun, and there is probably someone around that can teach you a thing or two. When there is a party you may get an opportunity to fire them up and twirl fire. Juggling, lieing in the sun, swimming, yoga on the beach, takraw (go farang all-stars), reading, cross words (with the help of Perg), and doing nothing are also popular. Bringing a few books along to read, trade, and leave there would be nice. There are all sorts of people from all over the world to talk to. There aren’t too many parties on Tonsai unless there is a "full moon" party at the Freedom Bar (or you or someone else starts one). It is a bit of an effort to get to Railey, but it can be done. After a few days of low winds and no rain the water clears up a bit and the snorkelling by Happy Islands isn’t too bad (it isn’t that spectacular, but it is cool to see fish and coral). If you have the time and the money you can get dive certified which would make a nice break for your tendons.

So what are some interesting moments in Thai climbing? Rappelling off of Thaiwand wall in a rather stiff wind. Stiff and rising so that the ropes stretched off horizontally and tried to wrap around stalactites. This extra element made the descent much more interesting. I was worried that the wropes would get stuck permanently off to the side or else in trying to clear them I would pull off a chunk of rock that would either stay tangled on the ends of the ropes I was depending on for my life or plummet to the base of the cliff where there were other climbers. Eventually we got down safely. The first time I climbed Thaiwand wall was up Circus Oz starting about 4:00 pm. When I mean starting, I mean heading to the bungalow to get my gear together. We made fairly good time, but it was still pretty dark by the time we made the last Rappell. Since we hadn’t been down that way before, and it was a free hanging rap, the first guy down back clipped to insure that he didn’t end up hanging in space at the end of the rope. He reached the ground OK, but I still had to clean it on my way down… Nothing compared to some other people sticking their ropes on Crystal Flame…

here are some pics

Luan climbing on Phi Phi
Pic of Luan climbing on Phi Phi

Euan rapping on Phi Phi
Pic of Euan rapping on Phi Phi

Jeremy Belays me on Stranglehold (6c+)
Pic of me on Stranglehold align=

Stranglehold (6c+)
Pic of me on Stranglehold (6c+)

Out of Sticks (7a+)
Pic of me on Out of Sticks (7a+)

Here are some links to other people's sites

Simon Foley writes about climbing in Asia
Adrian Berry writes about climbing in Thailand
more people write about climbing there...
Link to Rockclimbing.com Thailand

return to my Asia page